Tokyo Olympics 2021 ban spectators over COVID-19 state of emergency

No spectators will be allowed at the Tokyo Olympic Games, the latest twist in the 2021 saga as Japan puts its capital city back into lockdown. The Government of Japan has announced a new state of emergency in Tokyo amid rising COVID-19 cases, with a big impact on how the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be held.

Those games have already been delayed from 2020, of course, though the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee had already been criticized for its rescheduling. In particular, the decision to push ahead with crowds of spectators seemed out of line with healthcare recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

In June 2021, the decision was made to limit spectators to 50-percent of venue capacity, to a maximum of 10,000 people. It also mandated mask-wearing by everyone present, and requested that spectators "travel directly to venues and return home directly" rather than linger in crowds. Perhaps most ridiculously, "speaking in a loud voice or shouting will be prohibited," the Olympic organizers insisted.

Now, though, spectators will be able to shout as loudly as they like – just as long as they do it from home. In a new joint statement, and with the Olympics Opening Ceremony scheduled for Friday, July 23, it's been agreed that there'll be no on-site spectators at all this year.

"The IOC and IPC, respecting this decision, support it in the interest of safe and secure Games for everybody," the committees said today in a statement. "At the same time, all five parties deeply regret for the athletes and for the spectators that this measure had to be put in place for the reasons outlined above."

As for the Paralympic Games, the decision around in-person spectators will be made when the Olympic Games end.

COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have been increasing in recent weeks. According to the official government figures, as of July 8, there have been almost 2,200 new cases day on day, of which 704 required in-patient treatment. Deaths are up by 13 cases.

Of particular concern is the so-called COVID-19 Delta variant, lineage B.1.617.2. That has been rising in prevalence around the world, and Japan is no different; it's known to be more virulent and prone to spread, though current research suggests the existing vaccines are effective in preventing severe cases of infection.